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The Marriage Antidote to Domestic Violence?

I had trouble keeping up this past week. We saw a barrage of commentary in response to a troubling Op-Ed published in the Washington Post on Wednesday. In an apparent homage to Fathers’ Day, W. Bradford Wilcox and Robin Fretwell Wilson offered their opinions under the title: “One Way to End Violence Against Women? Married Dads.” The critical response and push back to the article have been almost instantaneous. That’s the good news.

I had trouble keeping up this past week. We saw a barrage of commentary in response to a troubling Op-Ed published in the Washington Post on Wednesday. In an apparent homage to Father's Day, W. Bradford Wilcox and Robin Fretwell Wilson offered their opinions under the title: “One Way to End Violence Against Women? Married Dads.”

The critical response and push back to the article have been almost instantaneous. That’s the good news.

On the one hand, the authors, in response to the Santa Barbara murders, acknowledged the needed attention to the fact that “millions of girls and women have been abused, assaulted, or raped by men, and even more fear that they will be subject to such an attack." So far, so good.

But then we were treated to the slicing and dicing of research and statistics to conclude that “Married women are notably safer than their unmarried peers...” In a profoundly simplistic and unabashed polemic the authors concluded that marriage (assumed to be heterosexual) is the answer to domestic violence.

They drew erroneous conclusions from the two primary pieces of research that they cite. First of all, the Fourth National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect presents data on child abuse and not domestic violence or intimate partner violence (IPV). Second, the data from the Dept. of Justice study “Intimate Partner Violence Against Women 1993-2010” reports the highest rate of IPV against single women with children. We are not told whether the intimate partner violence these women report occurred before they became single (i.e. were married to an abuser) or while they were single. What appears to be missing in the authors’ analysis is the relative “safety” of divorced women with children, i.e. women who have left an abuser to whom they were married and are now safe from abuse. Where are these numbers?

So let’s get to a few facts: the rate of (heterosexual) marriage has been dropping in recent years and the rate of cohabiting couples has been rising.

The rate of intimate partner violence (which includes married and unmarried couples) has dropped at least 50% since the mid 1990s.

When we put these two snapshots of data together, it would appear that in fact the absence of (heterosexual) marriage has contributed to a drop in domestic violence. But I am not making that argument because it would be equally simplistic and unhelpful.

I would be the first to affirm that women and children living in healthy, nonabusive  relationships (married or otherwise) enjoy the benefits of safety and are least likely to be abused. That is the family I grew up in and the family I now live in.

Through my work with FaithTrust Institute over the past four decades, however, I have witnessed the struggles of many married women seeking to escape abusive relationships and have counseled numerous clergy members working to offer them spiritual support. The reality is that marriage itself does not stop or transform the controlling, abusive behavior of men who do inflict intimate partner violence. Even Wilcox and Wilson acknowledge, “Marriage is no panacea when it comes to male violence.”

But in this article, Wilcox and Wilson are making a convoluted argument that marriage is the antidote to domestic violence; this is irresponsible and once again places responsibility on women for men’s bad behaviors.

And to add insult to injury, Wilcox, who is director of the National Marriage Project, addressed the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (the day after his op-ed appeared) on the topic of marriage. Although Wilcox may offer justification that reinforces positions the bishops hold, his analysis will not provide what is actually needed—a solid understanding of intimate partner violence and progress toward real solutions for the problem.

Faith communities need and deserve better commentary than this.

Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune
www.faithtrustinstitute.org
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Marriage antidote

Posted by Maria at Jun 16, 2014 07:27 PM
Marriage is a relationship not an antidote! Non-violence regardless of the circumstances is the goal.....I agree with Rev. Marie....such a pathetic conclusion of data insults any journalism worth its salt.

The antidote of marriage

Posted by Henry Meyerding at Jun 16, 2014 07:27 PM
Wilcox and Wilson have a history of blaming changes in society for everything that is wrong in society. Their message is plain: change is bad. This is a message that is happily accepted and broadcast by the USCCB, it is an opinion they have had for decades. The reason why we see more reported domestic violence is the same reason we see more deaths from COPD: we recognize this violence and these deaths as having occurred and we did not use to do this. Anyone who thinks that there was less domestic violence in the 1890's than in the 1990's needs to get their head examined. And to Wilcox and Wilson: domestic violence is not caused by gay marriage, it is not cured by heterosexual marriage. Domestic violence is not caused by a lapse in ethics, but by the application of ethics where ignorance and secrecy once ruled.